Arid Lands Newsletter--link to home page No. 41, Spring/Summer 1997
The CCD, Part II: Asia & Americas

The CCD: Current status in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean

Prepared by the staff of the Interim Secretariat of the CCD, Geneva, Switzerland

"Desertification puts at risk the livelihoods of around one billion people in the drylands of over 100 countries."


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The previous article contributed by the CCD Interim Secretariat to this newsletter emphasized core principles and organizational aspects of the Convention itself and briefly described interim CCD-related activities undertaken in Africa and the North Mediterranean. This article covers information on actions taken to date to implement the CCD in the remaining two regions singled out by the CCD's four annexes: Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Brief information is also provided on other main initiatives, with an update on ratifications and the negotiating process.

Desertification: Some examples in Asia and the LAC region

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Desertification puts at risk the livelihoods of around one billion people in the drylands of over 100 countries, including several in the LAC and Asian regions. Simply put, desertification reduces the land's resilience to natural climate variability, undermines food production and deeply affects the socio-economic conditions of the local population, thereby triggering a vicious cycle of poverty, ecological degradation, migration and conflicts. Causes, effects and consequences, however, vary according to the specific socio-economic and ecological conditions of each region. For example, Mexico and the United States show some very different socio-economic impacts of desertification.

Mexico is seriously affected by desertification. An estimated 60 per cent of its total territory is extremely or severely degraded, and about 2,250 square kilometers of potentially productive farmlands are taken out of production or abandoned each year. This situation has long since caused a migration from poverty-stricken rural areas to Mexican cities and the United States. Some estimated 900,000 people are involved yearly in this rural exodus, with Mexico City and Los Angeles being major destinations.

The United States also suffers directly from desertification. An estimated 74 percent of North American drylands are either moderately or severely degraded. In the American West, poor farming and water management practices, livestock overgrazing, ineffective land use laws and population growth are desertifying lands at an alarming rate. In California's Central Valley, over 500,000 acres of prime farmland are currently impaired by salinization and dwindling water supplies. However, to date, desertification has not caused large-scale population migrations within the US.

In other LAC countries, the impact of severe desertification is creating massive social disruptions and migration of affected populations. The countries most affected are Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and especially Haiti. Other countries within the region will soon face similar problems if effective action is not taken now.

Asia also bears severe consequences of desertification, with around 1.4 million hectares increasingly showing its effects. In the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), for example, the total area of arid and semi-arid zones is about 300 million hectares, or 14 per cent of CIS territory. The Aral Sea region is perhaps the severest example of desertification within the CIS. Human-induced conditions, such as excessive and inappropriate use of water resources, intensive cultivation, fertilizer and pesticide abuse, and monoculture farming are the main causes for land degradation and the drying up of the Aral Sea. Desertification such as this is a driving force behind the flight of millions of migrants from the rural areas of the CIS to cities and/or neighbouring countries -- a process which could potentially create further economic and political tension in the region.

Clearly, desertification-related financial and social costs are staggering in all affected countries.

1997 highlights: Preparations for the first session of the Conference of the Parties

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The clear urgency and gravity of such problems have given great impetus to the negotiating process for the CCD. The tenth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Desertification (INCD-10), held 6-16 January 1997 in New York, ended with agreement on most of the issues at stake. Remaining issues will be addressed in Geneva from 18-22 August, prior to the convening of the first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 1). COP 1, scheduled for 29 September - 10 October 1997, will be hosted by the Italian government at FAO's headquarters in Rome.

COP 1 represents the first major event on the agenda to mark the passage from interim action to full implementation of the UNCCD. Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention up to 90 days prior to COP 1 will be entitled to attend as Parties. (An accession is an instrument of ratification deposited by a country which has not signed the Convention. As of 5 May 1997, 70 countries had ratified or acceded to the Convention.)

Parties will have the right to a full vote at COP 1, where they are scheduled to consider matters such as a global funding mechanism, financial rules, institutional linkages, and the designation and physical location of the Permanent Secretariat (currently, three cities are proposed: Montreal, Canada; Bonn, Germany, or Murcia, Spain. ) Parties may also designate experts to the Committee on Science and Technology, which will provide scientific and technological information and advice to the Conference; and may make nominations to rosters from which ad hoc group panels may be appointed to deal with specific desertification-related issues.

Countries that have not ratified/acceded, UN bodies and other intergovernmental organizations, and NGOs will attend COP-1 as observers. Also, in support of the Convention's participatory and "bottom-up" approach, initiatives parallel to COP 1 will involve representatives of the media as well as of local authorities and NGOs.

Preparations for COP 1 include intense negotiations at the regional and subregional levels regarding the elaboration of National, Regional and Subregional Action Programmes (NAPs, RAPs, SRAPs) related to the implementation of the CCD. Due to the Convention's Resolution on Urgent Action, most affected countries have already taken preliminary steps leading towards the drafting of such programs. As COP 1 approaches, however, their actual negotiation and preparation becomes crucial for the full entry into force and implementation of the Convention. Parties undertake to:

  • Adopt an integrated approach to desertification and drought.
  • Give due attention to the situation of affected developing country parties.
  • Integrate strategies of poverty eradication.
  • Promote cooperation among affected country parties.
  • Cooperate with relevant intergovernmental organization and NGOs.
  • Promote the use of existing bilateral and multilateral financial mechanisms and arrangements.

In this framework, a number of initiatives have already taken place or are planned in all affected regions. Those activities occurring between INCD-10 (January 97) and COP 1 are highlighted in the attached calendar.

Interim actions to implement the CCD in Asia

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In Asia 29 countries, ranging from the Middle East through Central Asia, South Asia and the Far East, are affected by desertification and drought. As of 5 May 1997, 18 Asian countries had already ratified or acceded to the Convention. National, subregional and regional consultations took place throughout 1995 and 1996, and are continuing in 1997, with participation from all stakeholders. The UNCCD Interim Secretariat has also worked to strengthen international cooperation both among countries and among entire regions. For example, the Secretariat has been cosponsoring a joint study between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority to restore the ecological balance in the Rift Valley. In other efforts, interregional cooperation has included Afro-Asian consultations at the governmental and non-governmental levels.

The Middle East has hosted an initiative aimed at highlighting and strengthening links among the CCD and the other two international Conventions resulting from the UN Conference on Environment and Development: the Convention on Biodiversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Also, the Gulf Cooperation Council has expressed interest in activities related to the elaboration of framework programs of action to combat desertification.

The most important Asian activity remaining before COP 1 is the ministerial conference on the implementation of the CCD in Asia, to be held in Beijing, China from 13-15 May 1997. This conference will further elaborate the Regional Action Framework for Asia on the basis of NAPs. Participants will include ministers in charge of desertification control as well as representatives from associating donors, international organizations and NGOs.

Other important consultations scheduled in the region include the subregional consultations for Western Asia and the interregional consultation of CIS countries.

The subregional consultation for Western Asia, held 9-11 April 1997 in Damascus, Syria, brought stakeholders together to formulate the elements of a programme for sub-regional cooperation to implement the CCD in light of the UNCCD Annex for Asia. Western Asian countries had previously gathered at a sub-regional consultation in Abu Dhabi on 24-26 June 1996 and endorsed a range of options for the preparation of NAPs and of a SRAP for Western Asia. They called upon countries to nominate a coordinating Agency for the implementation of the CCD, addressed issues related to the preparation of NAPs and enumerated priority program areas for the region.

The Interregional Conference in the CIS, scheduled for 10-12 June 1997 in Uzbekistan, takes into particular consideration the peculiarity of the CIS, an association of countries cutting across several geographic regions and desertification-affected areas in Eastern Europe, the Trans Caucasian mountains and the vast steppes of Central Asia. The preamble of the CCD expresses particular concern over the impact of desertification and drought in this part of the world. The Uzbekistan conference will aim at promoting interregional cooperation among States with economies in transition which share similar historical heritage, institutional set-up, scope of problems and options for response.

Sponsored by the CCD Interim Secretariat, a preliminary review of sub-regional preparatory activities to combat desertification was conducted in October 1994 by the Desert Research Institute of the Turkmenistan Academy of Science. The September 1995 Nukus Declaration addressed the sustainable development of the Aral Sea Basin and listed the commitments of the interested countries. Furthemore, with the help of UNEP, the CIS and neighbouring countries gathered at a sub-regional conference for Central Asia in Almaty, Kazakstan on 14-17 June 1995; there, they recognized that actions to combat desertification and drought are an essential part of national sustainable development strategies and emphasized the need for capacity building in fields such as environmental education, institutional strengthening and training.

Interim actions to implement the CCD in Latin America and the Caribbean

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Around fifteen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are affected by desertification and drought. As of 5 May 1997, nine of them had already ratified or acceded the Convention. Since signing of the CCD in 1994, LAC activities at the national as well as at the regional levels have been intense. Most countries have already held national awareness seminars, representing the first step in the process of national consultations leading to elaboration of NAPs. In addition, activities at the subregional and regional levels have taken place.

Three regional consultations concerning the implementation of the CCD have been held in the LAC region: in Buenos Aires (January 1996), in Mexico (June 1996), and in Havana, Cuba (10-12 March 1997). The third of these meetings was particularly fruitful. Delegates from over 25 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean participated in the meeting, together with around 20 representatives of NGOs and international multilateral and bilateral cooperation organizations. The conference reviewed and adopted proposals for a Regional Coordinating Mechanism, as well as an initial Regional Action Programme for the implementation of the CCD, both of which will be presented to COP 1. Other important issues discussed included:

  • Elaboration of horizontal cooperation schemes.
  • Evaluation and monitoring of desertification processes.
  • Regional information network.
  • Subregional initiatives.
  • Strengthening of national, subregional and regional institutional capacities.

The meeting strengthened the impetus for regional cooperation and collaboration among all players involved in implementation of the CCD in the LAC region.

CCD Main Initiatives, March - September 1997

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3-5 March
Maseru, Lesotho
Forum on SADC Subregional Action Programme

6-7 March
Havana, Cuba
Regional NGO Meeting in Latin America and the Caribbean

10-12 March
Havana, Cuba
Third Regional Conference on the Implementation of the CCD in Latin America and the Caribbean

17-20 March
Workshop on synergies among Rio conventions (CBD, CCD and FCCC)

18-21 March
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
Pan African Conference on the implementation of the UNCCD and follow up of the results of UNCED

9-11 April
Damascus, Syria
Middle East Subregional consultation

14-16 April
Rabat, Morocco
Expert meeting on UMA Subregional Action Programme

Asmara, Eritrea
Second Technical Workshop for 15 Focal Points

date to be determined
Niamey, Niger
Forum on CILSS and ECOWAS Subregional Action Programmes

Maseru, Lesotho
Third Technical Workshop for 15 focal points

12-16 May
Tucson, Arizona, USA
International symposium and workshop: "Combating desertification: Connecting science with community action"

13-15 May
Beijing, China
Regional Conference on the implementation of the CCD in Asia

27-30 May
Niamey, Niger
Second Afro Asian expert meeting on the implementation of the CCD

10-12 June
Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Interregional conference of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)

17 June
World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought

18-22 August
Geneva, Switzerland
INCD 10 resumed session

29 September - 10 October
Rome, Italy
First session of the Conference of the Parties of the CCD

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Author information

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Reports of regional and subregional meetings are available from the Interim Secretariat on request. Please contact the following address:
Interim Secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification
Geneva Executive Centre (GEC)
11/13 Chemin des Anemones
1219 Chatelaine, Geneva
Fax: +41 (22) 979.9030 , 979.9031

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